When it comes to education, government bureaucrats don’t always know best

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, January 23, 2023
When it comes to education, government bureaucrats don’t always know best

Suppose you were learning how to drive for the first time and you had a choice between two instructors. One of them, a government employee, has a success rate of 26 per cent while the other, a private contractor, has a 90 per cent success rate. Which instructor would you hire?

The choice is obvious. However, many government bureaucrats have a different way of thinking. Most would pick the government instructor because that’s who they believe can provide the best service.

As a case in point, the Saskatchewan government recently announced plans to centralize all online instruction in the province. To do this, the government picked a public school division with a 26 per cent graduation rate in its online programs even though a private online school—Flex Ed—in the province has a 90 per cent graduation rate.

Flex ED, based in Saskatoon, has offered online programming since 2005. As a Qualified Independent School, it offers provincially approved programs and receives provincial funding. Despite Flex ED’s proven record of success, the Saskatchewan government has so far spurned the school’s repeated offers to help.

On its face, the decision to choose a program with only a 26 per cent graduation rate appears nonsensical. But again, it becomes more understandable when we realize that government bureaucrats have an inherent bias towards government-run programs. This is why it’s so difficult to make significant changes to our education system.

For example, half of all Canadian provinces, including Ontario, still refuse to allow money to follow the student. Consequently, students in these provinces are stuck in government schools unless their parents can pay private school tuition. Even though independent schools frequently outperform public schools, Ontario and four other provinces remain stuck in the mindset that government schools must remain the default option for everyone.

It gets even worse when education department bureaucrats directly undermine the efforts of their political masters. When the Ford government was first elected in Ontario, one of its key campaign pledges was to remove discovery math from the curriculum and restore a back-to-basics approach to math instruction. But while Ontario politicians were saying all the right things about restoring the academic basics, the initial math curriculum they rolled out was filled with woke nonsense and an “anti-racist” and “decolonial” approach to math. It even challenged the belief that mathematics is an objective discipline. While the government quickly removed much of this language in the face of public pressure, the damage was done.

Unfortunately, many school board officials are right on board with this woke nonsense. The Toronto District School Board’s Mathematics Action Plan even encourages teachers to “regularly incorporate issues of social justice in mathematics learning.” With this ongoing social justice focus, Toronto parents have good reason to question whether their children will ever learn basic math. And the entirety of British Columbia’s new curriculum has been infused with social justice themes.

Fortunately, help is available—if politicians would override their bureaucrats and look to private organizations such as JUMP Math. Founded by mathematician John Mighton, JUMP Math produces K-8 math resources that effectively combine a back-to-basics approach with creative problem-solving. Despite its documented success at helping students learn math, it has long been dismissed by education bureaucrats.

Why? Mainly because it isn’t run by the government. Bureaucrats are inherently risk-adverse and reluctant to reach out to the private sector for help. As a result, JUMP Math has made only limited inroads in government schools. The majority of public-school students continue to flounder with substandard math instruction, as evidenced by the overall decline of Canadian math scores on international assessments.

If politicians are serious about improving education, they can start by seeking outside input. There are far too many situations where education ministers have their well-intentioned plans derailed by their own bureaucrats. Relying solely on advice from education department bureaucrats is a recipe for disaster.

Hopefully, we get more politicians capable of thinking outside the box. It would be a great start if Saskatchewan’s education minister overrode his bureaucrats and picked the online school with a 90 per cent graduation rate to help guide online instruction, not the public school that barely graduates one out of every four students.

When it comes to education, government bureaucrats don’t always know best.